Okay full disclosure… I LOVE Hoi An! If you would like to visit a pretty little old town, with amazing food, shopping, spas and great coffee (this I have on good authority as I don’t drink it), close to a lovely beach, this is the place for you. It is a photographers dream with the beautiful old buildings in their faded orange hue draped in pink, yellow or white flowers. At every pause there is something either beautiful or interesting to photograph. I was a bit sad I didn’t have my DSLR with me. For me Hoi An offers all the things I love!
I discovered great iced mint tea, a fantastic lemon meringue pie and the delicious white rose dumplings which we ate at the restaurant of the family who invented them. They are very famous and supply all the restaurants in the area. I think we met white rose royalty!
Hoi An is truly beautiful in the evening and we were lucky enough to be there during the lunar celebrations where the little candles are placed in the river. The first night it rained so was less successful however the second night it was really pretty. I suspect it is a well practised tourist trap but I don’t care!
Hoi An is famed for it’s lanterns and again in the evening they light up the old buildings and look truly gorgeous. Yes I am a sucker for lights!
These are the beautiful lanterns that light up the buildings and surrounding areas.
Of course one of the main reasons that people travel to Hoi An is the high density of tailors. At first finding a good tailor seems quite overwhelming as almost every shop has silks, cottons and leathers displayed with people asking you to come inside to buy something or get something made. We quickly got used to it but it does take some time. The best piece of advice I can offer is to make sure that you have plenty of time to explore, talk with store owners, read reviews and check the quality of the reviews. All is not created equal!
You may also have to fend off people in the street that look for tourists to ask them to come to their shop. One such hapless character tried it on with us. At first we were polite and said that we would come to his market stall later (miles away on the other side of town), then he tracked us down an hour later (still miles away) and asked us when we were coming (ok still polite but getting frustrated), third time (we were quite close and said we were on our way), fourth time ( I snapped!). In the end I told him he had pestered us all day (over about 5 hours) and I was NOT coming to his shop. He looked a bit taken aback but left us alone after that. Advice: Be polite but firm with your no thank you’s right from the start!
Between us we engaged a number of tailors and shoe makers. We decided to get cheaper things that we didn’t care so much about made by people who had similar things on the mannequins on display hoping that this meant that this was what they did well. For the most part this was true and generally ok. I got a pair of shorts made this way and they turned out ok. They cost 20 USD so weren’t ridiculously cheap but suited my purposes. They are black cotton and will be good travel shorts.
I got three pairs of shoes (2 sandals, one brogues) made from two different shops and am happy (so far) with these. The proof will be in the wearing! I was slightly insulted by one of the shoe tailors who tried to sell me nana shoes – she thought it would suit my style. I spent some time explaining to her that I do not look like this at work! Bless her, she was so excited with the sandals I asked her to make – all fashion she said! The brogues turned out beautifully. I gave them a picture of some white and silver ones off the net and they copied them perfectly right down to the hole punching on the toe. I wouldn’t get heels made here, I think you need to go for simplicity.
The main tailor that we used was Bebe’s which is one of the few tailors that have their own workshops. Most of the others contract there’s out to factories. The advantage of having their own tailors is that they do control the quality. I am pretty fussy about my work clothes and so was very specific going in. I tried them out first with a cool coat dress which was the main thing I wanted made. They made a beautiful job of it and I am very pleased. This is not the cheapest tailor by any means but I think you get what you pay for. I ended up getting a couple of other suits copied from my favourite designers/shops at home and a couple of shirts. We went to BEBE 2 (there are 3) and I was helped by Ty (Tea) who was by far the best assistant in the shop. If you ever go to Bebe 2, you must ask for her. I wouldn’t deal with anyone else. She has a good eye, listens carefully and picks up things wrong that even I didn’t. Getting clothing tailored is not for the faint hearted. If you like good quality, you will need to allow for at least three fittings over 3-4 days. We stayed a week and felt that we needed this time.
People don’t really talk much about the beach just out of Hoi An but it is lovely. It is so hot in Hoi An that you need to do your shopping/ tailor fittings either in the morning or the evening. The shops are open until late so it is easy to do. We grabbed a taxi to go to the beach (easy to go by scooter or bike also) and were pleasantly surprised. The water was clear, the sand white and the vendors not too pushy. We walked down a bit from the main area and got a quieter spot on a lounger and spent the morning relaxing. Highly recommended.
On the way to the beach I spotted water buffalo in the rice fields along the road side. I decided that a bike ride through the paddies for a buffalo hunt was on the cards. As it was so hot, we decided to go early (6am). It was still blisteringly hot at this early hour but we borrowed bikes from the hotel and cycled off armed with camera. Wouldn’t you know it, the buffalo had “done” their job in the close fields the day before and were now in a spot that was not easy to get to. I ascertained this information from a lovely man who stopped by to chat. He was on his way to work and he told me that his daughter had married a kiwi and was living in Waihi! Who would have thought! Despite not being overly successful with the photo shoot I really enjoyed the ride through the fields, watching the locals work. (Didn’t join in this time)
Those black blobs above are the buffalo!
We also took a day tour which I would highly recommend. It was an eco food/cooking tour (8am to 3pm). We started off at the markets, selecting vegetables, meat, herbs and spices to cook our 4 course meal. A wet market is always a bit of a sensory overload and this was no exception.
After the market, we got onto a boat to head down the river to Coconut village where the course was to be taken. We were transferred to a basket boat for the final part where we also caught some crabs at the base of the coconut trees. I’d been wanting to give these boats a whirl so it was pretty cool when the boatman started spinning the boat. I was the only one that appreciated this!
Next we learnt about rice, how to grind it to get the husks off, making rice milk and making rice pancakes.
Next up, the cooking! We donned our chef hats and aprons and tried to make the food that was demonstrated. We successfully made some rice paper rolls, pork and shrimp crispy pancake, a noodle dish and pho. All delicious but phew were we full!
A worthwhile tour and highly recommended.
We stayed at Green Apple Hotel which is pretty cheap, includes breakfast, has 24 hour staff, restaurant and pool. Because we stayed with them for a week (and presumably no one usually does) we were invited to a meal cooked especially for us one of the nights. It was a very kind thought despite being asked to rate them on Trip Advisor! The hotel is on the edge of the old town about 1.5km from the heart of it all. Unfortunately in the heat this feels like quite a distance so we used the free shuttle when we could and taxis when it suited better. Taxis really didn’t want to take us so we ended up bribing them with extra money. This system worked and we managed to get home each night!
I loved Hoi An and would happily return. Yes it is a tourist trap, but it’s a good one!